If I have achieved limited success in keeping up with the latest books, I am even worse at watching films. So while I'm not too far behind the curve in seeing Wall-E recently, I also viewed for the first time X-Men (the first one) and (wait for it) ET!
Wall-E is an animated movie which has two stories running in parallel. One is the tale of a lonely rubbish-disposing robot, left behind on Earth to clear up the mess created by humanity, and his romance with a sleek robot from a visiting spaceship. The other is a biting satire on the Western – and especially American – way of life, which surprised me given that this is a Disney film aimed at children. The satire begins with humanity's profligacy in covering the Earth with rubbish and so poisoning the environment that nothing could live there. The people all departed to live in luxurious spaceships in which they spend all day on trivial virtual activities, consuming vast quantities of junk food, instantly obeying the all-pervasive advertising about when and what to eat, drink and do, and travelling everywhere in mobile armchairs so that they became too fat and weak even to stand up without assistance. I wonder how many of the target audience, cooing over the cute robots, picked up the film's subversive message?
X-Men surprised me. I had expected an undemanding comic-strip action hero blockbuster (and all the expected elements are certainly there) but the plot is rather more serious and thoughtful than that, starting with a grim scene in a World War 2 concentration camp. The presence of some heavyweight actors – Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan – reinforces the point. The idea of people developing mutant powers is nothing new, of course, but the themes of how the public would regard such mutants, and how the mutants themselves might become divided over their response to the public's hostility, form the main thrust of this movie. In parallel with this is the struggle of one of the mutants (played by Hugh Jackman) to understand what had been done to him – a story line which was left dangling in obvious preparation for the sequel. Clearly a cut above the average superhero film; and, if nothing else, male viewers can enjoy watching Famke Janssen, a disconcertingly blonde Halle Berry, and a disturbingly sexy mutant called Mystique (played by Rebecca Romijn).
I braced myself before watching ET, afraid that it would turn out to be a pile of schmaltz. Well, it was to some extent, but it was better than I had expected and quite amusing. Worth watching – once.
Finally, neither big-screen movies nor even fiction (in the usual sense): a couple of UK TV programmes.
Life After People, shown on C4 a few months ago (I've just got around to watching the tape!) concerning what might happen if humanity vanished overnight. An interesting analysis of the effect on human pets (cats are fine, dogs vary with breed), wildlife (pigeons do well, so does everything in the sea), plants (take over everything on land) and buildings (after a few centuries, only massive old stone buildings will still be here, with the pyramids lasting longest of all). There was some haunting real-life film of a town near Chernobyl, completely abandoned for twenty years – the extent of the decay was remarkable – together with lots of CGI of iconic bridges and buildings collapsing. Interesting if somewhat depressing, but dragged out too long with too many repetitions of dramatic collapses.
Ghosts of Glastonbury was another C4 programme featuring Tony Robinson (of Blackadder and Time Team fame) investigating a claim by an early 20th-century archaeologist that the remarkable success of his excavations of Glastonbury Abbey was due to advice from the spirit world achieved through automatic writing. While the claims made by the archaeologist were all pretty well disproved, Robinson got very excited by his own attempt (helped by a spiritualist) at automatic writing, in which he interpreted a squiggle as being a man's name (with a fair amount of imagination), and it turned out that a monk of that name had been associated at some time with Glastonbury Abbey. That reasoning had so many holes in it that I felt very disappointed - I expected better of Robinson after his comprehensive demolition of the "facts" in The Da Vinci Code. The programme would have left many viewers thinking that there could be something in this automatic writing after all.